Imagine Bernd & Hilla Becher had decided to create a typology of found photos. This project, if it existed, might be similar to the work of Joachim Schmid, a Berlin-based artist who has created over the past 25 years a relentless catalog of vernacular photography. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco is presenting a retrospective of his work now through October.
Schmid doesn’t just catalog, he re-interprets. His “Pictures from the Streets” series is his longest running work, starting in 1982 and continuing into the present. These are literally found photos. Schmid walks the streets of different cities, scavenging for lost or discarded photos, hovering around photo booths where he finds rejected images, often torn into little pieces and thrown in the trash. He then mounts these banal images on poster board—ID photos, vacation snaps, poorly cropped or badly developed prints—and asks the viewer to see all of these documents together as an archive of our everyday lives, the moments considered too insignificant, lacking emotional import. Gathered together they gain force.
The photos I was drawn to the most were the reconstructed images where a user had torn it up and discarded it. Schmid rebuilds the image into a jigsaw puzzle often with a piece or two missing which fills it even more with a sense of melancholy.
“Photogenetic Drafts” comes from a stash of discarded negatives from a photographer’s portrait studio. The film had been destroyed, cut in half, but Schmid rescued it, reprinting the negatives in mismatched pairs. He creates odd mutations, juxtaposing one half of a matronly woman with another half of a young schoolgirl or a bearded man with a boy in a sweater.
Another series, “Statics,” was born out of the boxes and boxes of photos that Schmid had found but didn’t use. He put them through a shredder then carefully laid these thin strips down side by side, building eye-popping mosaics of color.
The German art publisher, Steidl, has published a monograph to coincide with the show.